The permanent and official blog of the University of Leicester's School of Museum Studies PhD student conferences and special events.

28 March 2011

Hop the Sixth - Psychotherapy, which we might need

Darko Babic and Zeljika Miklosevic, Institution for Mass Psychotherapy

In considering the left-over materials and stories of broken relationships, we can examine a number of notions of authority, for in the reflections left over, the personal story can tell a universal narrative. It is this interaction between the various elements which remain, which the Museum of Broken Relationships problematises.

Recently, the Museum of Broken Relationships, opened October 2010, has found itself a permanent home. All the objects are donated, to their own wishes and choices, accompanied by their own stories - the only condition is that they must have something to do with a broken relationship. The project began five years ago, when a couple broke up and didn't know what to do with their shared items. They conceived the idea of the museum, and the act of inviting other people to contribute. The first exhibition occured in Zagreb in 2006 received a lot of positive responses and many objects were donated. So they toured around Europe - and even ended up in the United States and have just received an invitation to exhibit in Buenos Aires.

The MBR problematises, too, the relationship between the artefact and the writing which accompanies it. In this museum, the two conjoin to perform the museum object - they are completely inseperable from each other, for without the text, the object becomes something totally other. The texts are very narrative, they tell stories, or provide little reflections upon the relationships which have been lost. These relationships might have been loving, hateful, religious, with institutions and faiths as well as with people.

This museum showcases how differently people utilze objects, in ways which are sometimes very ideosyncratic. People assign certain, often very personal meanings to these objects, in which ideas are emboddied, perhaps in some form of emotional release. The donation, then, to the museum, represents a kind of ritual clensing, a progression along the path of healing. Perhaps this is not just for the person donating the object, but about the audience who are visiting and veiwing them. In this way, the individual donor or viewer becomes yet another object-creator, for there is a process of creation which occurs, for the life of the object, beyond its material formation.

Every passion has a spectator, Barthes once said, and the museum is a place in which that spectatorial distancing can occur. But the placement of the objects in the museum accords a kind veracity to the objects, a rightness or interest to the act, however strange or inappropriate it may socially have been. The role of the curator is not to interpret the objects, but to arrange them in ways in which their meanings become apparent. But if the museum continues to collect objects based upon texts, what should they do about taxonomy - should they develop taxonomies of abstract notions, such as 'rage' or 'fury.' These are public exhibitions, a discourse of privacy in the world - there's a tension here. Is there the possibility for a right of reply? Should personal stories such as this be performed in the outer world?

These objects are often very strong, but with their highly public display, there is a willingness of to engage with the materiality of love, of loss, of the broken heart. The creation of shared spaces with which to engage with this dialogue creates an area in which the appropriateness of displaying particular objects can develop and be questioned. What is the role of the individual approach to artefacts, and the role of individual stories in museums, particularly in a commodified world of mass produced material culture? How can a curator approach this kind of material? Perhaps this willingness of the MBR to engage with abstract notions and personal stories points to a possible way forward. In the abstract, in the personal, in individuation and private interpretation, perhaps museums can find a place for themselves in this possible future, and the different approach to authenticity which this world might well require.

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